While the New Year brings a fresh energy that makes Canadians want to look forward and craft exciting goals, sometimes it’s fun to take this time of year as an opportunity to look back from where we came. Land ownership and trends around owning land have changed a lot over the past century and more, so let’s take a moment to see where we came from to better understand where we want to go.
Canadians Don’t Technically Own Their Land.
Canadian law, in most provinces, evolved from common British law, so instead of directly owning our land, Canadians have land tenure. Basically, we have permission from the British Crown to own our land. From 1670 to 1870, land tenure rights to much of Canada, which was known as Rupert’s Land, was owned by the Hudson Bay Company, so for 200 years the majority of now-Canadian land was owned by a corporation. In 1870, the land was acquired back from the Hudson Bay Company by the Dominion of Canada. The government split up the land. Huge chunks were reserved for the railway. Others were put aside for schools. Most of the rest was sold to settlers in 180 acre chunks for $10. These early land grants included rights to minerals, oil, and more found beneath the soil. But the in the prairie provinces, the provincial governments’ crown lands (lands owned by the government not individual Canadians or first nation peoples) did not include these mineral rights — the federal government had kept them.
In these early years, the Governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba were very frustrated that they could not earn revenue off of the rich resources in our provinces. This lead to a lot of resentment towards Eastern Canada, so in 1930, Prime Minister R. B. Bennett introduced legislation that effectively gave the provinces full control and rights to all the crown land within their borders except for national parks. This was hugely important and helped Alberta to begin to flourish. Remember that the Alberta government owns 60% of all the land in our province, so gaining these mineral rights created a massive opportunity for new revenue.
Recently, we’ve seen more and more Canadians moving to large urban areas. A hundred years ago, 62% of all Albertans (51% Canada-wide) lived in rural areas. As of 2011, more than 80% of Albertans live in cities. This has led to an increase in renters and a decrease in land ownership — though Canadians still own more land than an average person world wide. The number of people who own condos rather than some dirt with a house on top has doubled to over 10%. However, many of these urbanites own cottages and houses in nearby small towns, or even hobby farms.
Productive Family Farms have grown significantly in size as the number of farmers has decreased, but the overall footprint of all farmlands has decreased. The major cities of Alberta are situated on prime farmland, and as these massive, sprawling beasts continue to grow, they devour more and more rich agricultural land. As we move forward, Alberta’s major cities should consider seriously about how they will control growth and protect farms.
As you can see, how land is treated in Canada has changed a lot. It’s up to Albertans to decide if they like the direction that we’re moving in, or whether we want to change course. With the start of a new year, now is an excellent time to think about just that. Let us know what you’re thinking!